BY KIERAN McCARTHY
JUST like Darragh McElhinney stamped his class in the men’s 3000m at the national senior indoor championships, he also confirmed his position as one of the rising stars of Irish athletics.
He has now won FOUR senior Irish titles in a sensational 12-month period.
On Saturday McElhinney defended his indoor 3000m crown in a championship record time (7:49.18) after a blistering sub-25 second final 200-metre lap. It was a mature and impressive performance, as he added another glittering gold to his growing collection.
In the last year he has won Irish senior titles in the indoor 3000m (2), outdoor 5000m and the national cross-country to confirm his position as the athlete to beat.
‘That’s my fifth senior title and my fourth in a row, so I have been quite dominant in the last 12 months which is something I am quite proud of,’ the 22-year-old told The Southern Star.
‘I want to do well at international level, but I appreciate how important it is to win titles and set records at national level as well.’
He was one of three West Cork athletes to medal at the national senior indoors as the Healy sisters, Joan and Phil, both won silver medals on the Sunday, in the women’s 60m and 400m respectively. McElhinney feels his race panned out just the way he hoped it would. He felt his stride was uninterrupted all the way through, he didn’t have to battle for positions and felt fresh for his final kick – and rapid final lap – that long-time leader, young Nick Griggs, had no answer to.
‘It’s something that I always know I have in my locker,’ McElhinney says.
‘A lot of the time you might not end up utilising it because of the different ways that races go. The pace of the race was one thing but what really set me up to close it like that was it was really smooth the whole way.
‘It was just myself and Nick who got away from the gun. I had an easy task, I just followed him, didn’t have to work too hard, didn’t have to chop my stride. I realised with 600 or 800 to go that I didn’t really have to dig too deep so when the time came to kick I knew I would be fairly fresh.
‘I know I can run a 24 or 25-second last lap because I have done it in training but it’s important to know too that I can do it at the end of a race. It definitely was encouraging.’
It’s a lesson he wants to take into the European Indoor Championships (March 2nd – 5th) in Istanbul: stay out of danger and don’t get involved in anything silly early on to make the most of his kick late on. Defending his Irish title is also a confidence boost ahead of the Europeans because he was coming off two races in Boston, and while they were indoor PBs, that didn’t work out how he had planned.
‘Closing as hard as I did, and at that pace, is pretty encouraging for the next few weeks,’ he adds. Darragh’s older brother, Eoghan, in his first A final, finished 11th in the race, running for Bantry AC. He was less than half a second outside his PB of 8:29.59, as he ran 8:29.98 to cap off a good day for the McElhinney brothers. In the men’s 3000m B final Sean Lawton finished fourth (8:42.58), less than two seconds off first place.
Ballineen Bullet Phil Healy will also compete at the European Indoors, and while she has the qualifying standard for the 400m individual she will race in just the women’s 4x400m relay. Serial national senior winner Phil didn’t have the ideal preparation and the nationals were her first action of the year. She didn’t have the race sharpness she wanted but, an incredible competitor, the Bandon AC track star ran 53.97 (over two seconds outside her PB of 51.66 set in March 2022) to take silver in Sunday’s final behind Sophie Becker, who controlled the women’s 400m final from the start. Tokyo Olympian Phil did win her heat and semi-final on Saturday, while her Bandon AC team-mate Lauren McCourt missed out on the women’s 400m final after a fourth-place finish in her semi-final.
Phil’s older sister, Joan Healy, swelled her medal collection with a silver in the women’s 60m fina, but was disappointed to miss out on the gold. The Ballineen woman had run the fastest in the semi-finals, but had to give way to Sarah Leahy (Killarney Valley AC) who produced a stunning 7.30 PB to grab gold ahead of Healy and her season’s best of 7.33 (also her fastest 60m in three years). Lucy-May Sleeman (7.38) took bronze. Leahy’s time moved her to joint fourth on the Irish all-time indoors list. Joan will race in the 60m at the Europeans in Istanbul this Friday.